Eating with the Season

Pickles, Canning, and the Fear of Botulism
September 19, 2011, 8:15 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

There is a good reason why it has taken me so long to write another post this summer. The last time I wrote, I talked about the strange problem of having a refrigerator overflowing with delicious, organic vegetables. As each week passed during which Thomas and I received a share of the Hawthorne Valley CSA, we found ourselves throwing away beautiful heads of lettuce, gigantic zucchini, and bunches of beets, all gone soft from neglect. I had had enough. A solution had to be found. Unlike the progression of the food industry which continuously utilizes science to push food preservation forward with chemicals and freezing, our solution for keeping our veggies crisp and fresh came by resorting to past methods: canning and pickling.

Pickles are not something that are too new to our kitchen. If you look back a few posts, you’ll find a recipe for simple refrigerator pickles. These pickles took literally fifteen minutes to make and could be eaten after marinading for only twenty four hours. That recipe was great for getting a cucumber quickly used and lasting for about a week after soaking in the pickling brine. However, my goal was to keep some of these veggies past the summer season and into the winter when we would no longer be receiving the CSA shares. Not so easy. The answer to our prayers came at a rather lucky moment when we opened our mailbox and took out the last month’s edition of Bon Appetit Magazine that had “Make Your Own Pickles and Jams” scrolled across the top!

With some seemingly delicious recipes for pickling cucumbers, zucchini, and beets now on hand, I set off to find all the necessary supplies to get my veggies packed away with lots of flavor. All I needed was some jars with lids, tongs to handle those jars while they were hot, and a pot big enough to fully cover the jars with boiling water. Finding these items, however, was not an easy task; after walking through Hell’s Kitchen, down through Chelsea, and finally the West Village, stopping at every cooking supplies store I came across, it seemed that not many people were as interested in preserving their own food as I was…surprising?…I’m not so sure. It was a small specialty store, Sur La Table, near my work that solved my problems, not to mention, solved them with markdowns! I happily marched home with bags of discount cooking supplies in each hand, my favorite way of marching home, I might add.

I then laid out all my supplies and my veggies and got to preserving! It’s a rather simple process, but one that takes time and care. Each jar and lid had to be cleaned in soapy water, then gently dropped into the large pot full of boiling water to be sterilized. Only then could the jars be dried, filled with vegetables and brine, then sealed with the lid. Finally, the jars had to be placed back into the boiling water to vacuum-seal the lid and keep the vegetables fresh! I have to admit, I was pretty proud when I brought the first few jars out of the water, and the lids were inverted and the jars were ready to be stored for the next few months.

This first round yielded two different pickles: spicy, dill, cucumber pickles made with garlic and Thai chilies, and pickled beets soaked in red wine vinegar and star anise. After waiting a week for the pickles to set, we couldn’t help but crack open a jar and see what we had created. This was not as easy as it would seem though. It was not the tight, vacuumed lids that held me back, but rather the growing fear of botulism brought to my attention by a friend. These invisible, food-borne spores were originally found in aluminum canning, able to kill a person with a day of consumption. I was terrified. What if I hadn’t properly handled my cans and my delicious pickles were my ticket to my deathbed?!

In the end, I decided if I was going to go down, I wasn’t going down alone. Thomas and I invited friends over with the promise of fancy grilled cheeses for dinner. We laid out a spread of Jarlsberg cheese, caramelized onions, homemade rye bread, and finally, the potentially deadly cucumber pickles. Everyone chose their fillings of preference and I fried up the sandwiches. We all sat down, took a deep breath, and took a bite of our adult grilled cheeses. The pickles were amazing. Juicy, warm, salty and tangy, they were everything I wanted.

The best part…we are all still alive to tell the tale. Despite us all surviving my ventures into canning and pickling, I don’t know enough about this process to share the variations of recipes I took from Bon Appetit. I’d suggest buying a book or doing some good research if you’d like to try your hand at this fun! I will, however, let you know how the beets turn out once I crack open their jars! I’m super excited for some simple salads with pickled beets and goat cheese! More to come!


1 Comment so far
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Well, you finally misspelled a word! Marinating, not marinading! I say finally, because your writing is excellent, my son! Keep up the good work.

Comment by Steve Metzbower

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